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Supreme Court Appears Split on Arizona Voter Registration Law

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by Publius
Posted March 18, 2013, 6:16 PM

The Arizona Republic reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s nine justices lobbed a volley of tough questions at Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne on Monday as he argued for the state’s voter-registration law aimed at keeping illegal immigrants off the voter rolls.

At stake is Proposition 200, a law passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2004, that asks Arizonans who want to vote to provide documentary proof of citizenship, such as a copy of a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, tribal identification card or naturalization number. The law goes beyond what federal voter-registration rules require for proof.

The law inflamed the immigration debate when it was passed and was almost immediately challenged by voting-rights advocates as burdensome to the young, elderly, minorities or naturalized citizens and to voter-registration organizations. Supporters touted the law as a check against voter fraud.

The pointed questioning, particularly from the more conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and more liberal Justice Sonya Sotomayor, could indicate the justices will deliver a divided opinion, as they have in many challenges of Arizona laws that have gone before the high court recently.

During the hour-long oral argument, the justices frequently interrupted and changed the direction of debate within seconds.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected by the summer.

Horne said afterward he thought he had answered the justices’ questions fully. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said they were confident the back-and-forth showed the justices are skeptical of the Arizona law.

Scalia appeared to side with Horne’s arguments, repeating nearly word-for-word the Republican attorney general’s claim that without the law, election officials have little ability to prevent voter-registration fraud by non-citizens. Sotomayor, on the other hand, appeared to doubt Horne’s argument that Arizona election officials are following federal election law.

Though federal law requires voters to be U.S. citizens, Arizona’s requirement for documentation of citizenship goes beyond what Congress asked for when it created a federal voter-registration form in 1993 to encourage voter registration across the country. The form asks only for the potential voter to sign under penalty of perjury that he or she is a citizen. The postcard form was intended to be a simple solution to a patchwork of state voter-registration rules.

Scalia questioned whether a signature would stop someone from illegally registering to vote.

“So it’s under oath — big deal,” Scalia said. “If you’re willing to violate the voting laws, you’re willing to violate the perjury laws.”

“That’s exactly right, Your Honor,” Horne responded.

Meanwhile, Sotomayor said it appeared Arizona was flouting federal law by imposing additional requirements.

“I don’t know how you are ‘accepting and using’ when you’re rejecting someone who’s doing exactly what they’re asked to do on the federal form,” she said. “I have a real big disconnect.”

 

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